NBA Shootout 2003 Review (PS2)
In the never-ending battle for sports gaming supremacy, the key players every year try to raise the bar a little bit higher then the competition. When this year’s crop of basketball titles was set to hit the shelf, fanboys on message boards everywhere started the heated Sega vs. EA debate. What people forgot was that 989 has been in the basketball game for a few years now, and they would want their spot in the sun too. NBA ShootOut 2003 was the first b-ball title to find its’ way into my console this year. How does it match up? Can it take EA to the hole? Put a nasty monster jam on Sega? Game On.
I find myself compelled to start with the gameplay of ShootOut, because this is where the buzz is. Not only is the 2003 model vastly improved over earlier 989 releases, but it is obvious that this is where the developers took their time. This is the place where I see a future. This is the area where the people at EA and Visual Concepts need to take notice.
Depth is the bread and butter of this game. The folks at 989 decided to change the standard with NBA ShootOut 2003’s fantastic career mode. Fantastic in concept, strong in delivery. The first step is creating a player. In a detailed, yet somewhat limited create a player interface you can customize everything from multiple tattoos, eyewear, and sock height. Assign your new identity to your favorite team and get ready to ball.
The first step is the NBA Summer League. Through a schedule of games (in the summer league jerseys…nice touch) you can hone your skills as you try to impress the coach for a ticket to the big league. If your “J” isn’t up to snuff or you keep giving away the rock down low, an NBA contract may not be in your future. Don’t worry though, Big Fella! 989 snagged the license to the NBDL (National Basketball Development League) and they’re sure to find a roster spot for you. Show a little game in the minors and you’ll start fielding offers for 10-day contracts from the Pros. Keep battling for that roster spot and try to crack the starting five. But, don’t let the glitz and glamour of the NBA effect your skills or you’ll find your self benched, traded, or even cut. Although it may appeal more to the “sim fan”, this is a great mode and a fantastic first effort. On the court you’ll find the gameplay to be a little bit erratic. As I mentioned before, NBA ShootOut 2003 definitely leans more toward the “sim gamer”. Field goal percentage is pretty accurate. You can’t sit outside the arc and drop bombs all day. Strong passing teams are rewarded with nice looks at open shot and freed up cutters. They implemented a crossover system using the right analog stick in the same vein as EA’s new freestyle controls. I say in the vein because it is a virtually useless function in Shootout. Even the best players in the league get the basketball equivalent of “Mario Running” when they attempt to take their opponent to the hole. Sadly, if you do make it to the hole, like many hoops games in the past, you’ll find far too many blocked shots in this title. Layups, dunks, jumpers…they are all easily rejected with a decent timed jump.
Additional game modes and a cool yet clumsy Create-a-Dunk feature make NBA ShootOut 2003’s gameplay solid in depth, decent in execution, and strong in replay value.
My Mom always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.” Although that’s not really an option when you are writing a review, it certainly applies here. Graphically, this game is weak. I found myself double-checking the game box to see if they had accidently sent me a PS One copy instead of a Next-Gen edition. The player models are clunky and Frankenstein-esque. The arenas are, pretty much, indistinguishable from one another. And, the courts are poorly rendered and use no special or unique lighting or shadowing effects. Is it passable? Barely. Expect a complete face-lift in future releases, because this game is arguably the worst use of hardware that I’ve seen on the PS2.
Like the gameplay, the sound of NBA ShootOut 2003 was a pleasant surprise. While there was nothing revolutionary, top to bottom the guys at 989 delivered a nice mix of background music, game sounds, and commentating. Although all three phases are pretty generic, unlike a lot of developers, ShootOut seems to use the less is more philosophy. Bill Walton provides color commentary and seems to be reigned in from his usual antics that you might here on Sunday afternoon. Solid is the best way I can describe it. Just enough of everything.
Like 3DO’s High Heat Baseball series on the PC proved, sometimes you can sacrifice the aesthetics when you are trying to bring something new to the table. NBA ShootOut is not pretty. That may be the understatement of the year. The in-game play is sloppy at times. But, and this is a Shaq size BUT, 989 has set a new bar for sports titles that I expect a lot of developer to try to duplicate next year. And not just basketball either. The NBA ShootOut 2003 take on career mode is going to pop up in baseball and hockey titles as well. A few years from now, gamers will look back at this title as a trendsetter. Does the good outweigh the bad? Maybe. The biggest word to remember here is potential. This series has a lot of potential. The future is bright.